Deliberate Practice

“The great improvers are willing to get uncomfortable and make the mental and physical effort to correct a flaw.” – Hank Haney

Deliberate practice is a term coined by renowned psychologist K. Anders Ericsson. This was after landmark research on how we attain mastery in a given pursuit. I don’t believe in perfection as a standard thats why I believe practice doesn’t make perfect but it makes permanent.

The investment into getting it right in private is significant because the payoff of getting it right in public is more significant. Click To Tweet

Perhaps you’ve heard that it takes about10,000 hours to master a given skill. That number comes from Ericsson’s 1993 study of violinists at a music academy in Berlin. The researchers gathered vast data on all the students — the brilliant performers who would build careers with elite orchestras, and the mediocre performers who would become high school music teachers — and found they were mostly the same. In fact, they differed significantly in only one measure: total lifetime hours spent on deliberate practice.

By the time they graduated, the best performers had racked up about 10,000 hours practising, while the mediocre ones had logged about half that. Later research in many other fields has supported those findings.
There’s something meaningful about that number of hours of deliberate practice. Top performers of every kind — brain surgeons, jet pilots, business leaders, musicians, athletes — attain excellence in their respective fields through deliberate practice.

When considering the idea of deliberate practice, the behaviour of the world’s greatest golfer Tiger Woods is instructive. In his book The Big Miss, Hank Haney, Woods’s coach from 2004 to 2010, observed that on the range Woods would rarely hit more than 25 balls before taking a seat in his cart, where he would stare silently and think about what he was doing. Haney wrote: “To me, it was an example of a great performer doing… ‘deliberate practice.’ “ In his own way, Woods was engaged in the hard mental work of fixing a weakness. “A lot of players hit a lot of balls but focus only on their strengths,” Haney continued.

Thanks in large part to his father, Woods had 19 years and some 12,000 hours of deliberate practice under his belt by the time he won the Masters in 1997, at age 21. Now, you are probably asking yourself how do I achieve this deliberate practice. I mean, 10,000 hours; that’s roughly three hours a day for the next nine years. You have a job, a family, a life. Impossible right? I will tell you though that you can improve significantly by grabbing hours wherever you can, as long as you’re doing deliberate practice.

The investment into getting it right in private is significant because the payoff of getting it right in public is more significant. Deliberate practice can be summed up in these 4 key elements.

  1. DELIBERATE PRACTICE IS HIGHLY PERSONALISED
    What you need to work on is unique to you. Few everyday people understand how to practice in a way that leads to actual improvement. You need a personalised plan that stretches your comfort zone. Only you — and your mentor, if you have one, knows what that is. Ask yourself what skills and situations make you uncomfortable and what you’d like to do well, and then devise a plan to work on those areas. Find the areas where you want to improve, then focus on drills that challenge you.
  2. DELIBERATE PRACTICE SHOULD PUSH YOU JUST BEYOND YOUR ABILITIES
    We’re talking about taking a step outside your comfort zone, not a giant leap. Small-chunk it. Seeking out what we do poorly is not most people’s idea of fun, so few of us do it. But the high performers find deep satisfaction in the challenge and immersion in the task. You have heard the saying that practice makes perfect. That is because it hammers out the clinks and the clanks. So lock in on your shortfalls and be deliberate about pushing the limits.
  3. DELIBERATE PRACTICE MUST BE REPEATED AT HIGH VOLUME
    The high performers repeat their practice at stultifying length, I just had to throw in that big word. Sam Snead hit balls all day, then practised by his car’s headlights at night. Ted Williams hit baseballs until his hands bled. Pete Maravich shot baskets in the school gym from dawn to dusk. Now brain science reveals why high-volume repetition is critical and this is because of Myelin.
    Myelin is a substance in the brain that builds up around certain circuits, much like insulation around an electrical wire. Performing an activity repeatedly sends signals through a highly-specific brain circuit that builds myelin, creating what some call muscle memory. The great performers have myelin in exactly the right places. For some, years of poor practice have built up so much myelin around the wrong circuit that it’s practically armour-plated.
  4. DELIBERATE PRACTICE REQUIRES CONTINUAL, SPECIFIC FEEDBACK
    We all have blind spots, so we need a coach, or, failing that, sound feedback. Whether you want to become the next Tiger Woods or Mark Zuckerberg, the research in various fields strongly suggests that you can’t improve if you don’t know how you’re doing. In golf, you see how each shot turns out, but you don’t see yourself hitting it. That means you don’t know why it turned out the way it did.
    What’s worse, we often think we know why it turned out that way, but we are wrong. A good teacher is an ideal solution; another option for athletes specifically is watching and analysing videos of yourself. Expert feedback corrects mistakes that you may not know you’re committing. Without it, progress is virtually impossible. That’s the reason why authors have editors, entrepreneurs have mentors and sports personalities have coaches.
You came into this world with the same inborn ability to achieve greatness that all the greats did. Click To Tweet

Deliberate practice is a bit uncomfortable. It will take time. But now you can choose to walk the same well-lit path that other masters have traversed. Believe it or not, you have no idea how good you can get. I saw Steph Curry make a 3 -point shot with his eyes closed – muscle memory. Start locking in your deliberate practice, be so intentional your brain has no choice but to get accustomed to getting better.

You came into this world with the same inborn ability to achieve greatness that all the greats did. No one’s cut from a different cloth. What you need is more hours of deliberate practice.